Colon Cancer: What You Should Know

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Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in America, and numbers among young people are rising rapidly. Recently, colon cancer has been trending due to Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther star, recently succumbing to the disease. He was only 43 years old. Here’s what you need to know about colon cancer.

Colon Cancer Among Younger People

While most cases are found in older people, the cases found in younger people have been growing at an alarming rate. 

Rates of colorectal cancer among people aged 65 or older, including tumors in the rectum or colon, have been declining. This is probably due to regular screening. Regardless, it is the second most common cause of cancer deaths among Americans. What’s even more alarming is that rates have been climbing by about two percent every year in people under 50.

Medical experts are unsure of the reason for the rising rates among younger people. While obesity, smoking, or a family history of cancer may play a role for some patients, not all people with colon cancer have these risk factors.

Doctors at the Center for Young Onset Colorectal Cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have been exploring whether diet, medications like antibiotics, and the microbiome might contribute to cancer among young people. These things have all changed drastically for generations born in the 1960s and later.

When is Screening Recommended?

According to the American Cancer Society, people should begin getting screenings at the age of 45. However, those with a family history of colon cancer should start getting tested at age 40 or at ten years younger than the age at which their family member was diagnosed, whichever comes first.

Early screening is also recommended for those with a history of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Early screening should also be considered for those who have previously received radiation in their abdomen or pelvis.

Screenings can be done utilizing different exams on stool samples or with imaging-based exams such as colonoscopies. Early detection has a significant correlation with survival rates in colon cancer cases. The five-year survival rate for young people for early-stage colon cancer is 94 percent. However, for those with late disease stages, the survival rate drops significantly, to as low as 20 percent.

Chadwick Boseman found out in 2016 that he had Stage 3 colon cancer. According to Dr. Robin B. Mendelsohn, co-director of the Center of Young Onset Colorectal Cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, patients with Stage 3 colon cancer typically have an approximate 60 to 80 percent chance of cure. This depends on several factors, such as whether or not the cancer is responsive to chemotherapy.

Racial Disparities in the Risk of Colon Cancer

According to a recent American Cancer Society report, rates of colorectal cancer are higher among black people. From 2012 to 2016, the rate of new cases among non-Hispanic black people was 45.7 per 100,000, which was about 20 percent higher than the rate among non-Hispanic white people and 50 percent higher than the rate among Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. The highest rate was among Alaskan Natives: 89 per 100,000.

The Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Bloody stools and bleeding from the rectum are common symptoms of colon cancer. Other symptoms include constipation or diarrhea, dark sticky feces, a drastic change in bowel habits, feeling anemic, sudden and frequent abdominal pain or cramps, nausea, vomiting, or unexplained weight loss. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s essential to notify your doctor immediately.

Schedule a Screening

Our doctors have extensive experience in cancer screening, prevention, and care at Nevada Surgery and Cancer Care. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a screening. Early detection can be the difference between life and death.